Shake! Shake! Shake!

As for Much Ado About Nothing, while it starts promisingly and features a few interesting performances, Angela Thomas's direction lacks the subtlety necessary to keep the production from growing tedious. The action begins on a high note as Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon (Christopher Railey), Count Claudio (Rob de los Reyes), and Signore Benedick (Paul Thomas) return from battle to Messina (Italy) to stay with Leonato, the Governor (Kerry Sensenbach). Claudio and Hero (Leonato's daughter, played by Shannon Emerick) fall in love and court each other in a conventional manner; conversely, Hero's cousin, Beatrice (Teresa Turiano), and Benedick woo by one-upping each other with pointed barbs, both insisting they will never be caught dead submitting to the repressive institution of marriage. The comedy's pithy tone turns dark when Claudio wrongly accuses Hero (at the altar, of all places!) of having betrayed him; in this production, however, the mood becomes anxious instead of dark. As the malapropism-spouting Constable Dogberry, Matt Regan enlivens the proceedings while simultaneously exposing the plot against Hero in time to save the day.

Actors in minor roles in A Midsummer Night's Dream play major roles here. Although everyone rises to the challenge of learning the lines to two Shakespearean comedies, in Much Ado About Nothing the ensemble seems exhausted by the process. After a while, the actors walk on-stage, recite their lines, and walk off, as if everyone's dutifully waiting for the play's betrayal to untangle itself and the postponed weddings to take place. Paul Thomas's solid performance as Benedick provides an exception. Although the actor relies too heavily on exaggerated facial tics to convey his character's confused passions, by the end of the play he has transformed Benedick from a prickly bachelor to a mature man capable of committing to love. In counterpoint to Benedick, Teresa Turiano's nervous Beatrice slings the requisite affronts but never seems to relax fully into her role. Shannon Emerick provides a nice surprise as Hero, bringing dignity and strength to a character who is usually milquetoast-bland.

Florida Playwrights' Theatre continues to bring Shakespeare to undeniable life in its small storefront theater -- no small feat for American actors largely untrained in the Shakespearean tongue. I look forward to seeing the company's version of what everyone in the theater world superstitiously calls "the Scottish play" this coming February.

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